Even as U.S. college enrollment has been on the decline since peaking in 2011, immigrant-origin students have comprised ever-larger shares of students on college and university campuses, in the process ushering in growing diversity, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis finds. This growth in two- and four-year college enrollment over the past two decades by students who are immigrants (the first generation) or the U.S.-born children of immigrants (the second generation) holds key implications for U.S. competitiveness as most future job growth is expected to require more than a high school education.
It also has important implications for U.S. higher education, helping cushion enrollment drops among a predominately White third-and-higher generation that is aging and also newly questioning the value of a college credential, MPI analysts Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix find. Where immigrant-origin students represented 1 in 5 students on college campuses in 2000, they were 1 in 3 as of 2021, and the younger ages of the U.S.-born children of immigrants likely will contribute to the rising prominence of the second generation among U.S. students for years to come.
The issue brief, Shared Gains: Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Colleges, uses U.S. Census Bureau data to examine changing enrollment by race, ethnicity, nativity, generation, and by two- and four-year college attendance; and the role that immigrant-origin-students are likely to play in shaping future enrollment trends. It also uses data from the Organization for Economic Development’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to examine the impact of parental education on post-secondary enrollment across immigrant generations.
“These enrollment trends occur within the context of sustained shortages of mid- and high-skilled workers, an aging U.S. population and declines in the number of children under 18 and young, college-age adults,” the brief finds.
“Looking ahead, the groups most likely to enroll in post-secondary institutions are those with the lowest average ages, including second-generation Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals, whose average ages were between 20 and 25 in 2022. By contrast, the average age for the third-and-higher-generation White population, which has historically fueled college admissions, was 42.”
Drawing from analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2000-21 Current Population Survey and pooled 2012/2014/2017 PIAAC data, the brief finds:
- Immigrant and U.S.-born racial and ethnic minority groups are likely to continue to boost post-secondary enrollment and student populations’ diversity, with implications for the composition of the future high-skilled workforce. The pool of potential future students will increasingly be composed of immigrant-origin and minority students, given the younger average ages for second-generation Black, Latino and AAPI individuals. The immigrant-origin Latino share of all students doubled from 9 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2021 at community colleges and from 6 percent to 12 percent at four-year colleges. The Black and AAPI immigrant-origin shares of all students at four-year colleges also grew, from 2 to 5 percent and from 8 to 10 percent, respectively. During the same period, the White third-and-higher-generation share of students fell from 58 percent to 44 percent among community college students and from 62 percent to 49 percent among four-year college students.
- Immigrant-origin students have been a vital source of growth for the U.S. college population for two decades, their numbers rising from 3.4 million in 2000 to almost 6.1 million in 2021. This 78 percent increase in enrollment came as total college enrollment rose 22 percent, from 15.3 million to 18.7 million. Immigrant-origin adults are over-represented on college campuses: although they made up 28 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 54 in 2021, they were 33 percent of college students.
- The rising educational attainment of recently arrived immigrants—with nearly half of those coming within the past five years possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher—suggests their children will likewise enroll in post-secondary education at significant rates. Parental education levels are a better predictor of enrollment for the first and third-and-higher generations than for the second generation.
To promote post-secondary credential attainment, the researchers suggest policymakers and practitioners in the higher education and immigration fields should consider the educational attainment barriers and opportunities of three key groups: the 6.1 million currently enrolled immigrant-origin students; an additional 6.1 million immigrant-origin youth (ages 14–18) who are approaching college-going age; and the 20.6 million immigrant-origin high school graduates currently without a post-secondary credential.
Read the issue brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigrant-origin-students-gains